Japan: In Search of "The White-Faced Geisha"


"Maiko" Apprentice Geisha
I understand that Bird-watchers are known to ...
  1. Position themselves in the target's familiar habitat
  2. Choose the appropriate time of day for spotting.
  3. Familiarize themselves with the target's plumage.
While visiting Japan, my personal mission was to spot a real, live Geisha and this was to be accomplished by...
  1. Positioning ourselves in the Gion district of Kyoto.
  2. Lurking the streets of Gion at dusk (best time of day for Geisha-spotting). Camera at the ready.
  3. Being on the lookout for a Japanese woman with a startling white face, wearing a brilliant Kimono..
Gion District at dusk. No evidence of a Geisha yet.
Doug didn't get it. "What's the big deal about seeing one in white face?" he asked, after taking pictures of women in traditional Japanese dress.
I just couldn't let him think all Japanese women in kimono were Geisha. Whether or not he cared, my husband's education into all things Geisha began as we strolled the streets of Gion.

I started by telling him about my immersion into the story of a beautiful, young girl beginning her apprenticeship as a Geisha in Gion and subsequently following her throughout life in the fictional "Memoirs of a Geisha" by Arthur Golden. The book depicted relentless dedication and commitment in becoming a Geisha. Although not all those in Geisha 'circles' feel it is an accurate portrayal of their lives, it opened my eyes and sparked my interest in these mysterious women.

Trying not to come off all smug, I recited a litany of things I just knew were signs of a real Geisha...
  • Geisha make-up is white, opaque and flawlessly applied with skin exposed at the nape of the neck.
  • Geisha do not carry handbags or shopping bags...they have 'people' to do that sort of thing for them.
  • Geisha hair is black and with every last hair in place. It is not cut short or styled in a messy updo.
  • "Geisha" means "person of art" in Japanese. They are formally trained in dance and music.
  • Geisha posture is perfect.
  • Apprentice Geisha are called "Maiko".
  • Geisha are cultured and skilled party hostesses - not prostitutes. 
  • The current rate to hire a Geisha for a party is $200-$300 per guest for two hours of her time.
  • The Geisha kimono reflects the Geisha's status. 
  • There are less than 1,000 practicing Geisha today.
He still didn't get it. So I calmly explained...."I just want to see one OK?" Enough said.

The white-faced Geisha hunt continued ...and then...

She was across the street from us, being followed by photographers and on the arm of a distinguished looking gentleman.
Can you see her?
OK, not the best shot.And then she was gone as quickly as she had appeared.

About an hour had passed without a Geisha sighting. I slacked off. My level of alertness had declined when . Doug says with urgency,  "Joanie, get your camera! Get your camera!". Sure enough, running with little baby steps directly towards us in her beautiful kimono and wooden flip-flops with white socks was a real-live white-faced Geisha! She disappeared into the darkness before I could get a shot of her.

It was then that I realized just how fast those Geisha can move. I remained hopeful. I had to be on my toes if I were to get a picture of a Geisha.

We were attending a light show that night at Chion-in Temple, and it just happened to be located very closely to Gion, maybe... just maybe... we would get another chance..

And then, in the distance, coming down a massive flight of stairs, a white-faced Geisha!
Despite accusations of stalking, I followed her around in the dark with my cell phone cam...
You've got to be pretty quick to catch a shot of a Geisha
No, she was not running away from me. I think she was just leaving.

Japan: Shibuya Crossing, Tokyo


It's the bright lights, big city perspective of Shibuya Crossing in downtown Tokyo that draws people from all over the world...

I've heard the best place to view Shibuya Crossing is from Starbucks' 2nd floor.

You would think that crowd control would be an issue in Tokyo and I'm sure it is... but the Japanese are all over it.

An example of their ingenuity is demonstrated by Shibuya Crossing. At the distinctive sound of an electronic bird chirping, all traffic stops and everybody walks.Wherever direction they want to and it works. About one minute later, the bird chirps again and pedestrians would be best off of the street as the traffic resumes with a vengeance.

Thanksgiving: Institution-Style


As a veteran of many hospital-based Thanksgiving dinners, I can tell you that the sun-lamp lit roast turkey slices tend to be dried out along with the savory (?) stuffing. Then there are the unseasoned mashed potatoes and green bean casseroles that are usually served colder than originally intended. The saving grace of these hospital cafeteria Thanksgiving dinners has been the standard and classic pumpkin pie. You can't mess that up.

This year was different.

Who would have thought that the Medical Director of our small community Emergency Department would cook for nurses and secretaries of the ER on Thanksgiving Day? He didn't just order it for us, he actually cooked it himself...

Smoked Turkey w/Gravy
Turkey Dressing
Mashed Potatoes
Sweet Potato Casserole
Green Bean Casserole w/mushrooms and panko
Cranberry Sauce 
Apple Pie
Pecan Pie
Pumpkin Pie

OK, so he didn't bake the pies or rolls.

But how cool was the fact that he did this for us?

Very cool.

Thanks Dave.

The Fabulosity of The Brazilian Blowout


In the 70's, I joined the throng of teen-aged girls curly-headed girls who slept (?) in hard, pink plastic hair rollers. Brutal as that may sound, the kicker was that the rollers were filled with hard bristles (of the bottle washing variety) and if that wasn't enough pain inflicted, the manufacturers promoted even more torture by including little pink barbaric plastic picks to be mercilessly stuck through the rollers and into our tender scalps to secure the aforementioned rollers.. This was also the decade for rolling wet hair in used frozen orange juice cans, then covering our heads with a plastic bonnet attached to a hair dryer hose. The snag was that many of us would fall asleep with this device turned on the "Hi Heat" setting, placing us at serious risk for sustaining scalp and ear burns. I understand that hot metal cans can do that to you. .
A Bonnet Hair Dryer

In the 80's I briefly "embraced my curls". Hanging my wet head upside down, between my knees while I painstakingly dried my hair with a "diffuser" all the while scrunching my curls in my fingers proved time-consuming.. Following the application of various curling mousses, lotions, balms and leave-in conditioners my "care-free" hair routine really wasn't so "care-free" after all..
A Diffuser Hair Dryer

I gave up in the 90's and resorted to a little gadget called "The Hairdini". It was a foam covered wire that I could twist into my hair, pulling it back into a tight knot. This invention was followed up by "The Teeny Hairdini" for even smaller hair buns. I was stylin'.

It's only now that my dream of soft, silky straight hair has finally come true by way of the newest "Brazilian Blowout". Earlier versions contained high amounts of formaldehyde and reportedly toxic but I was informed that this current one safe and formaldehyde free.

So far, it's been 24 days since I had it done My hair has not frizzed up in humidity, I have not had to straight-iron it. I just blow dry it and go!

"They" say the effects last for 10 weeks. I'll keep you posted. Check out my "Before" and "After" pics!



Brazilian Blowout Update:

It's been two years since I first experienced the Brazilian Blowout. I can't tell you how happy I have been shelling out the $$$ every 3 months for the freedom I get from not having to deal with my hair.

Groupons help.

In Dallas, a Brazilian Blowout runs about $200 but most 'Groupons' offer the same treatment for $100. 

Many stylists will offer the "Groupon" price if you book your next appointment in advance. That means I spend about $50/month on my hair annually - factoring in cuts, color, etc.

Believe me when I say that it is totally worth it.

Japan: Dear Japan


Currently, my body thinks it's 6 pm in Tokyo. My mind tells me that it's 3 am in Dallas. So it seems to me that this is a good time as ever to start documenting our trip to Japan. .

Marketplace at the entrance to The Senjo-ji Temple in Tokyo

Dear Japan,

In planning our first trip to Japan, we expected there to be a few 'snags' along the way , what with the language barrier, difference in culture, currency and customs. Preparing ourselves for potential problems is an expectation of international travel and we were OK with that. So, we took it upon ourselves to learn a few polite Japanese phrases, read a book on "Japanese Culture" and carry a copy of The Lonely Planet's "Japan"  before traveling 13.5 hours to get to you.

First of all, if I knew how to speak Japanese, I would have told you personally just how much I appreciated your hospitality and patience with us during our week in Tokyo and Kyoto. "Arigato gonzaimas" (Thank you very much) just doesn't seem to express our sincere thanks.

I have never been treated so kindly and so respectfully in any other foreign country. Despite the fact that many of the people that we were exposed to were in the service industry, it appeared that the desire to please and provide guidance was their sole motivation.We are still at a loss to explain the high  level of customer service that we recieved considering that tipping is not common or expected.

On our first night in Japan, we decided to find our hotel by using the train and subway system. The map that I picked up was in Japanese. If you look closely, you can see why this was a problem.

Thanks to the  Japan Rail-Man at Ochanomizu Station, we were given a smile, a nod, an English map and a directional point followed by "one-two-three" (we assumed these were the number of blocks to our hotel)

By the grace of God we made it.  It was late. It was pouring rain, We were soaking wet and exhausted. But, it was our 13th wedding anniversary. So, we sucked it up and went out to dinner. Not far from our hotel, we  found a noodle-bowl diner with pictures of food that you could choose from. It was the best bowl of noodles with an unknown meat source that we have ever had! Throughout our meal it was evident that the waiter and the cooks were watching us for our reaction to the food. Afterwards, we were presented with a complimentary plate of "Goyuza". Just because.

"Goyuza" Japanese Potstickers filled with vegetables
Then there were the silent majority of Japanese on subways and streets. Not once did I feel crowded, pushed or nudged. Personal space is remarkably respected given the population of Tokyo (12,800,000 ) That being said, I recall seeing "Pink" subway cars designated for women only. These "Pink" cars were implemented as a result of groping complaints experienced during rush hour. How thoughtful  Also, we did not expect quiet deference while visiting the Tsukiji Fish Market. You made it clear through your guidebooks that it is a working fish market and not supposed to be a tourist attraction but we chose to take our lives into our own hands while dodging one-man fish trucks speeding around market corners like bats out of hell. I guess they have a job to do and we respect that..
Staying out of the way at the Tsukiji Fish Market

Thank you for your degree of hygiene. Japan has got to be the cleanest country I have ever visited.

I'll begin with the traditional Japanese toilet. I guess I didn't get to that part in my "Japan" book because when I first walked into a Japanese ladies restroom, I was surprised by what I found...
Japanese Toilet - Flush with your foot

Instructions are always a good thing.
Odd. But most definitely sanitary'

Secondly, thank you for including instructions on proper handwashing techniques. Well done Japanese Department of Health and/or Infection Control.

The use of surgical face-masks run rampant in Japan. I suspect that you wear them to protect yourselves from germs as well as to prevent passing on germs to others but I am not certain as to when or why this practice started. Anybody out there know? It certainly makes a lot of sense and shows a high regard for social responsibility.

My book on Japanese Culture said that "Blowing one's nose in public is considered to be disgusting by the Japanese people" (as well it should be). I did not see any nose-blowing in Japan. For that, I am grateful.

Thank you Japan for a great trip.



On a recent flight from Miami to Key West Florida, I became familiar with a group of people known as "Parrotheads".
Two real-live 'Parrotheads' in the parking lot of  Key West's Hog's Breath Saloon

Colorfully dressed, flower wearing 50/60-somethings outfitted in flip-flops, Hawaiian shirts and shorts while clinging to their Margaritas during a somewhat eventful trip wasn't so bad. A generally laid-back, affable group, I couldn't help but imagine Jimmy Buffett tunes playing in their heads despite two aborted landing attempts in Key West, a subsequent return to Miami and an extensive delay on the ground. The Parrotheads seemed to take it all in stride - as long as alcohol was served - our flight attendant was all over it.

The following day, upon arrival in Key West the Parrotheads remained chipper. After all, they were attending the "The Meeting of The Minds" - an international Parrothead convention.where around 4,000 fine feathered friends "phlock" (their expression, not mine) to Key West annually. Now it seems the younger generation have been turned on to the Parrothead vibe. These 20/30 year-olds (dubbed "Parakeets") are a welcome addition to the club. .
So, just who are these Jimmy Buffet fans anyway? Exploring the lyrics to a few of his songs, it soon became clear...
Apparently, Parrotheads really like ...Jimmy Buffett, the tropical-beach-bum-lifestyle, alcohol and sunsets.

According to the Parrotheads in Paradise (PHIP) website, "The purpose of the organization is to promote the international network of Parrot Head Clubs as a humanitarian group sharing information and social activities for mutual benefit. The organization will engage in activities that are charitable, educational and that promote the general welfare of the community. Parrot Heads in Paradise, Inc. is a Not-For-Profit Corporation, whose purpose is to assist in community and environmental concerns and provide a variety of social activities for people who are interested in the music of Jimmy Buffett and the tropical lifestyle he personifies".

Parrothead chapters can be found all over the US, Canada and Caribbean, Europe and Australia.

Who knew?

What's Civility Got To Do With It?


  • "Be nice". 
  • "Mind your manners".
  • "Excuse yourself".
  • "Always say please and thank you".
  • "Apologize".
  • "Honesty is the best policy".
  • "Smile".
  • "Let kindness be your guide".
  • "Don't judge a book by it's cover"
  • "Respect one another"
  • 'Beauty is only skin deep". 
  • "Work out your differences".
These are just a few of the lessons in civility that my Mom drilled into me throughout my childhood. 

As a young adult it surprised and occasionally would hurt my feelings when I learned that others would mistake my 'niceness' for phoniness and/or stupidity. I got over it.

Then I heard my own thoughts echoed through (of all people) George W's 2001 First Inaugural Address...

"Civility is not a tactic or a sentiment. It is the determined choice of trust over cynicism, of community over chaos. And this commitment, if we keep it, is a way to shared accomplishment."

Love that. Civility. A determined choice.

Writing this post about civility, my conscience tells me that it's time to come clean.

Let the truth be known that I have an evil twin, an alter-ego who I refer to as "Joanne". She has been known to be a little impatient at times and occasionally will speak with a sharp tongue. The good news is that she responds well to chocolate or a cocktail. Either will work. Fortunately, she bares her fangs only very rarely.

"Joan", on the other hand prefers being nice. It just feels better.

Thanks Mom.

Paranoid in South America

Anticipating travel to South America was both exciting and scary. Admittedly, reports of muggings, kidnappings and police corruption go...